Thursday, June 15, 2006

Reading Hauerwas

‘Theology becomes a burden only when we take our unbelief seriously’
– Stanley Hauerwas

I’ve been intending to read Hauerwas’ The Peaceable Kingdom for some time now (hat tip to Dan). But after Kim Fabriciuspost in Ben Myers ‘Why I love theologian X’ series, I just couldn’t wait anymore. Has anyone read The Peaceable Kingdom? What is the big deal?


At 6/15/2006 4:26 PM, Anonymous Chris T. said...

I read it a few months ago. It might mark me as a heathen, but I was underwhelmed. He seems to do a good job of synthesizing the various folks he has read into something interesting — he's a great academic. But it just didn't feel like it was connecting with a very authentic faith. I know that's a terrible thing to say, but there it is.

Incidentally, he really got my hackles up when he claimed that opposition to abortion is learned through the fact that "your community and your not practice abortion." He gives great importance to that fact, and yet it's totally wrong. One in three women in the US have abortions, and Christian ethicists have a responsibility to take stock of that. Hauerwas ignores that fact because it's inconvenient, and it made me want to throw the book across the room. And he later claims that "arguments for the permissibility of abortion often turn on cases of twelve-year-old girls who have become pregnant through rape or incest," which is nonsense.

And then there's his comment that Catholics employ spiritual practices "that have no immediate connection with issues of peace or justice"! One wonders where he gets all this.

Anyhow, sorry for the rant. I pulled out my copy and looked at my notes in the margins—I'd forgotten just how frustrating a read this was. Still, there are lots of good quotes from other theologians here, and Hauerwas has a few good things to say. ;-)

At 6/15/2006 5:19 PM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

What a great quote from Hauerwas!

At 6/15/2006 6:46 PM, Anonymous Sharad Yadav said...

I ran across this quote from Stan the Man some time ago:

"Most North American Christians assume that they have a right, if not an obligation, to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No Task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. Let us no longer give the Bible to children when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked, such as eight-grade comencements. Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own."

Glad to hear about the relative health of your hinter-parts, by the way. This is the last time, however, I will ever refer to your hinter-parts.

At 6/15/2006 7:47 PM, Anonymous John P. said...

With regards to the Peaceable Kingdom: I read it first as a freshman undergrad and then again as a first year MTS student...I am not one to genuflect at the feet of any given theologian, but I often found myself in agreement with Hauerwas's claims throughout the book.

For me, this book was my first introduction into thinking critically about ethics. The way that Hauerwas frames the significance of community was a notion i had not yet explored...I know that Hauerwas is often criticised for his 'non-specific' ecclesiology...but his discourse on the relevance and centrality of the church was formative for me...

The chapter titled "The Servant Community" was worth the price of admission in my opinion. Just before that chapter begins, Hauerwas states that

"Though it is often tried, such skills [of living a faithful life] can never be reduced to techniques. For example, learning to live in such a way that i need not fear death means coming to a real understanding that Jesus has for all times defeated death...We learn such a truth only by being initiated into it by others." (95)

And then, into the chapter I previously mentioned, Hauerwas discusses the role of scripture in this community:

"Scripture is the means the church uses to constantly test its memory. That is why it can never be content with using just one part of Scripture, but must struggle day in and day out with the full text...Scripture has authority in the church, not because no one knows the truth, but because the truth is a conversation for which Scripture sets the agenda and boundaries. Those with authority are those who would serve by helping the church better hear and correspond to the stories of God as we find them in scripture." (98)

When I read these as a 18 yr old, my whole theolgical/social/political worldview was called into question and ultimately reformed...

I think it remains an incredibly profound and influential text on ethics, community, and scripture... I hope you find the reading fruitful.

ps...England finally scored against T&T!

At 6/15/2006 9:11 PM, Anonymous Richard said...

It remains a source of annoyance to me that I only discovered Hauerwas after I had finished my degree, I would have loved to do some more focussed work on him.

The Peaceable Kingdom is a good book although I would say it is a bit tame by Hauerwas' standards. I know that a Hauerwas reader was published in 2001 which gives a more up to date summary (It is pretty inexpensive). For my part my introduction to Hauerwas was a volume entitled: Dispatches from the Front

At 6/15/2006 9:15 PM, Anonymous Richard said...

sorry, the book I meant to finish off the comment with was "Dispatches from the Front"

At 6/16/2006 1:26 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thank you all so much for these comments - and quite a diverse set of opinions

(Chris: "I'd forgotten just how frustrating a read this was";
John: "an incredibly profound and influential text on ethics";
Richard: "a bit tame")!

Perhaps I'll blog a bit as I work through the book, when I get round to doing that, as I know almost nothing about theological ethics - it's a real gap in my knowledge.

I wonder if I should bother getting the Reader?

Thanks blueraja for not ever mentioning my hinter-parts again! I liked the quote, though, and I feel somewhat sympathetic towards its sentiment.

John, you made it sound fascinating. Thanks. Perhaps I'll simply photocopy the chapter titled "The Servant Community" and read that first I like underlining my books, but this one is library property. And I don't want to buy it until I feel it strikes a cord with me.

At 6/16/2006 2:20 AM, Anonymous Chris T. said...

I wonder if I should bother getting the Reader?

I've flipped through it in bookstores and always passed on it, because it always seems like there's a full text of his that's more worth reading.

Then again, I've never been a fan of readers/collections/etc.

Oh, BTW, forgot to mention, but his Cross-Shattered Christ is very good. I read it last summer some time.

At 6/16/2006 11:41 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Chris, I'll have a look at the Cross-Shattered Christ. Pity my library doesn't have a copy though.

At 6/16/2006 1:24 PM, Anonymous dan said...

I read Cross Shattered Christ last year, and enjoyed it quite a bit although it (intentionally) feels quite different than Stan's other books. I read Hauerwas' meditations on the last words from the cross, then Wright's meditations on the last words to the cross, and, most recently, von Balthasar's meditations about the mysterium paschale, and all these things have me wondering how those on the margins might meditate on the Easter-event.

Hauerwas, following von Balthasar, makes an intriguing comment right at the start of his book about the traditional ordering of the statements from the cross. He argues that the cry of godforsakenness (in Mk) should be given the place of privilege but he says that to do so demands too much of us -- and so we start with Jesus' proclamation of forgiveness. I wonder whether those on the margins can resonate with this. Those on the margins are starting from a place of godforsakenness and to begin with the suggestion that one forgives torturers, murderers, rapists, etc., seems like an altogether too demanding starting place. After those on the margins are always told to forgive, and in that particular understanding of forgiveness the status quo is maintained. Perhaps there is yet more to be said about starting with the cry of godforsakenness...

Hmmmm... pardon the tangent. I tried to keep the swearing to a minimum in order to prevent your wife from popping up and kicking my ass.

The book by Hauerwas that really impacted me back in the day was Resident Aliens (which he coauthored with Will Willimon). It is that book, and Hauerwas' other comments about the Christian community in books like The Peaceable Kingdom, that really stand as the foundation of my ecclesiology and my thoughts about Christian engagement with culture. The Church transforms the world by being the Church. Amen to that, brother Stan.

At 6/16/2006 2:37 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Dan,
I tried to keep the swearing to a minimum in order to prevent your wife from popping up and kicking my ass

I'm glad you commented on this post. I've just ordered Resident Alien from the library. Thanks.

At 6/18/2006 10:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Chris,

just thought that it might be more interesting to have a look at James McCLendon Jr's works as running in the same direction as Hauerwas' yet being loosely within an evangelical fold. While Hauerwas looks to provoke and stimulate thought in essay form, McClendan attempts to work out what this sort of theology looks like if it can be brought together in a fairly coherent structure.

Gordon Brown (not the Chancellor).

At 6/19/2006 5:49 AM, Anonymous Jeff said...


Sorry I'm coming into this a little bit late. I'm a bit of a Hauerwas fan, and I recently read "After Christendom," which Hauerwas calls a prequel to "Resident Aliens." Hence it gives more of the philosophical and theological foundations of Hauerwas's ethics found in Resident Aliens. AC was excellent, aside from a somewhat weak ending. It might round out your read of RA. AC is more dense than RA, but still a quick read. He focuses primarily on the North American religious situation. I think his later work is more global in perspective.

At 6/20/2006 12:04 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Cheers for that Jeff, I'll have a look.

At 6/21/2006 1:07 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Sorry Gordon, I missed you! Thanks for that recommendation!


Post a Comment

<< Home